No Rating Change After Benishek’s Retirement in Michigan

by Nathan L. Gonzales September 16, 2015 · 9:05 AM EDT

Democrats need Republican incumbents to retire from competitive districts in order to expand the playing field of competitive House races. But GOP Rep. Dan Benishek’s decision not to run for re-election in Michigan barely moves the status quo of the House battlefield.

Benishek was already considered vulnerable this cycle, and his 1st District was already counted among the three dozen most competitive races in the country. His narrow re-election victory in 2012 — 48.1-47.6 percent (a margin of 1,881 votes), made him an attractive target. But the seat leans Republican under most conditions.

President George W. Bush won the district, 55-44 percent, in his 2004 re-election race. President Barack Obama carried the district narrowly, 49.7-48.4 percent, in 2008, but he lost it to Mitt Romney, 54-45 percent, four years later. Of course Romney was born and raised in Michigan, where his father served as governor in the late 1960s, but there is other evidence of the district’s Republican bent.

In the 2012 Senate race, Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow won re-election by 21 points statewide but carried the district by 8 points, 52-44 percent. In last year’s Senate race, former GOP Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land won the district, 51.5-48.5 percent, over Democratic Rep. Gary Peters, even though she lost statewide by nearly 14 points. And in the gubernatorial race, GOP Gov. Rick Snyder won the district by 11 points, even though he won statewide by just 3 points over former Democratic Rep. Mark Schauer.

The 1st District covers much of Northern Michigan as well as the Upper Peninsula, parts of which are closer to Wisconsin and Canada than Lower Michigan. The large geographic district includes lots of rural territory dotted with small population centers including Traverse City (population 15,000) in Lower Michigan and Marquette (21,000) in the UP.

We rated the race as Lean Republican before Benishek’s retirement and we’ll hold that rating at least until the candidate fields develop and the national environment becomes more clear.

Democrats recruited state Democratic Party Chairman Lon Johnson to run, but 2014 nominee, retired Army Maj. Gen. Jerry Cannon, is running again as well. According to Roll Call, the initial list of potential Republican candidates includes state Sens. Tom Casperson and Wayne Schmidt, state Rep. Peter Pettalia and former state Sen. Jason Allen, who lost to Benishek by 15 votes in the 2010 GOP primary. 

Benishek is the seventh member to announce his or her retirement this cycle. Since 1976, an average of 22 members retired each cycle.